Best Foods to Donate to Food Pantries

In the United States, one in eight people struggles with food insecurity. This equates to 40 million Americans, including more than 12 million children. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. Many food insecure Americans rely on food from local food pantries to help to feed their families.

You may want to help by making food donations to local food pantries, but what types of donations help the most? The focus should be on whole, unprocessed foods to help people to create healthy meals. Rather than donating foods that are high in salt, sugar or processed grains, choose foods that are high in protein, healthy fats, and whole grains.

Meat is often expensive, so families may benefit from shelf-stable protein foods. Examples include:

  • Canned tuna or salmon
  • Canned chicken
  • Dried or low sodium canned beans
  • Low sodium canned soups or stews
  • Low sodium chicken, beef, and vegetable broths and stock
  • Low sodium peanut butter, almond butter, or sunbutter
  • Unsalted nuts
  • Unsalted seeds
  • Shelf stable milk

Grains are a staple in pantries, so they are often in high demand. Choose filling whole-grains rather than processed white grains. Examples include:

  • Brown or wild rice
  • Quinoa, bulgur or farro
  • Steel cut or rolled oats
  • Whole grain pasta
  • Popcorn kernels
  • Whole grain, low-sugar cereals
  • Whole wheat flour
  • High fiber granola bars

Fruits and vegetables should make up half of every meal. Good examples include:

  • Low sodium canned vegetables
  • Low sodium pasta sauce
  • Canned fruit (in juice)
  • Unsweetened apple sauce
  • Dried fruits, no sugar added

Additional foods to help people to build healthy meals include:

  • Olive oil or canola oil
  • Dried herbs and spices

Donating foods is not the only way you can help the food pantry, and may not even be the best way. Consider volunteering to help with tasks like sorting donations, assisting with fundraising events, answering calls, or doing administration work. Monetary donations are also helpful and may be the most effective way to help. Food pantries are able to stretch monetary donations further because of economies of scale and relationships with retailers.

There are some items that are less helpful and should avoid being donated. These include:

  • Chips
  • Candy
  • Soda
  • Unhealthy snacks
  • Expired foods
  • Rusty or dented cans
  • Foods without a label of ingredients
  • Homemade foods
  • Food in glass containers
  • Foods with a broken seal or opened package

It is rewarding to help others in need, and donating time, money or food to your local food pantry is a great way to help those struggling with food insecurity in your community.  

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